The reason Cousins didn't sign a long-term deal with Washington before Monday's franchise player deadline is rooted in simple economics. The team never offered him a deal that looks like what he expects to make on the open market next March.
Sources close to the situation have told ESPN that Washington was hoping to get a deal done with Cousins for something in the neighborhood of $22 million per year. But since Cousins is already guaranteed to earn nearly $24 million this year on the franchise tag, that number is obviously too low. Even if Washington came with a five-year, $125 million deal similar to the one Derek Carr just signed in Oakland, that wouldn't have moved the needle for Cousins.
This is because Cousins is poised to become the Loch Ness Monster of the NFL contract landscape. Since the franchise tag was established, no fully healthy franchise quarterback in his prime has hit the open market. Assuming he doesn't suffer some career-altering injury in 2017, Cousins will make history, and the market should react accordingly.
Simple economics: If supply is low and demand is high, prices go up. The NFL is starved for good starting quarterbacks. If one gets to free agency and multiple teams can bid on him, it's reasonable to assume the numbers could get astronomical. Given what Carr just got with only one team bidding, Cousins has every right to expect numbers in excess of $30 million per year with more than $70 million guaranteed.
The question now becomes: From which team? Here are 10 teams that could make up a robust market for Cousins in 2018:
A year ago, sources say, things were sour between Cousins and Washington management. Not so now. Remember, this missed deadline isn't personal, Sonny, it's strictly business. There's no reason to think Cousins wouldn't sign with Washington if it were the highest bidder. If the season goes well -- and it absolutely could, as the schedule and other circumstances offer reasons to think the Cowboys and Giants could take steps back -- these two sides might just want to get married after all. And Washington, with something like $60 million in cap space, will be the only team allowed to negotiate with Cousins between the end of its season and the second week of March.
Kyle Shanahan is the Niners' coach and was Cousins' first offensive coordinator in Washington. The 49ers could have more than $70 million in salary cap space when the new league year opens, which would enable them to outbid everyone else for a quarterback who knows Shanahan's offense and has had success in it. Right now, only Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley and C.J. Beathard stand in the way of San Francisco needing a quarterback next spring. Hoyer knows the offense and could theoretically surprise, but his injury history makes him a tough long-term bet.
Hey, maybe Brock Osweiler and Hue Jackson turn out to be a surprise perfect match. Maybe DeShone Kizer shows enough this season that the Browns are willing to turn over the offense to him in 2018. More likely, the Browns will wade into the market with something like $60 million in cap space and be a major factor in any big quarterback bidding wars that spring up.
The Jets have unloaded a ton of guys already and could be over $70 million in 2018 cap space. The assumption is that they'll have a high pick in a draft loaded with top quarterback talent, and that may well be the case. But that draft is still a whole college football season away, and there's no way to know for sure what the landscape will look like in April. The Jets could be in a position to have to bid on a veteran to resolve their never-ending quarterback search.
New Rams coach Sean McVay is another former Washington offensive coordinator who knows Cousins well and thinks highly of him. The question in L.A. is what McVay thinks of Jared Goff, who was the No. 1 overall pick in 2016 when Jeff Fisher was the coach. If the Rams get through this season and decide Goff isn't their long-term answer, it's perfectly reasonable to expect them to jump into the Cousins bidding. They're another team that could be looking at more than $60 million in cap space, depending on whether anything happens with an Aaron Donald contract by then.
If Carson Palmer retires after the season, Arizona's 2018 cap space will be in the mid-$40 million range and the team will have a clear need. The landscape here is difficult to predict, because coach Bruce Arians' future is uncertain as well. But the Cardinals didn't draft a quarterback and could be in the market.
The Jaguars are under new management, and Blake Bortles' 2018 option is guaranteed only for injury. If Bortles struggles the way he did in 2016, it's possible Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone will decide to move on. Dumping Bortles and cutting some Branden Albert/Chris Ivory-type veterans could get Jacksonville's 2018 cap room into the $40 million range.
It's a fluid and murky quarterback situation in Minnesota, where Teddy Bridgewater's health remains a mystery and Sam Bradford only has one year left on his contract. Odds are, one of those guys will be Minnesota's quarterback in 2018. But health and market factors could mess with the plans and leave the Vikings shopping for QB help. They would come to the table with more than $55 million in cap space.
Denver won't have the cap room that some of these other teams have, with so much money committed on defense and at wide receiver. But if Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch both falter, Denver will be in the market for a quarterback next spring, and general manager John Elway has a way of getting guys he wants.
It would be tough economically, but not crippling, for the Bills to move on from Tyrod Taylor after this season. Doing so would increase Buffalo's 2018 cap space to around $43 million, and the Bills would obviously need to look at free-agent quarterbacks. This is a wild card, but Taylor is, too.